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What Lies Above
The clock chimed noon and the crowd fell silent. Each stern face had fallen towards the podium in front of them. The podium was a foot off the ground so the balding, small man would be taller than the rest of the crowd.
He cleared his throat and began to read off of his note cards. “Citizens of my fair city,” he began, “I have come across some most troubling news.”
The silence intensified. In the city of Grawdersdale, bad news was truly bad.
The mayor seemed to have sensed that and gave a fake smile to the crowd while fumbling to order his notes. “I have heard word from our solar technicians that our solar panels above ground have…been damaged.”
This meant everything, because Grawdersdale depended completely on the solar panels above ground. Mainly because they were beneath it. The underground city hadn’t had a citizen to reach above ground in nearly one hundred years.
At this, the crowd stirred and the mayor tried to gain back order. “I am currently assembling a committee to fix this crisis. Already our chief electrician has offered to head the committee.” A gruff, large man with thinning gray hair stepped onto the stage. He didn’t say anything but stared coldly into the crowd.
“In town hall there is a signup sheet for anyone wishing to join this committee.”
15-year-old Aaron Hunter looked at the chief electrician carefully. He knew he wanted to join, but with Grant Harrison in charge, it would be another ordeal.
Grant Harrison had it in for him.
Still, Aaron weighed it mentally against his want to see the world above. That would be something he couldn’t be made fun of about. However, there was no way that Grant would ever let him into the committee.
There was an argument going inside of Aaron’s mind, not even listening to the words of the mayor.
Finally a side won. He’d sign up. Though the chances of him being picked were minimal.
It was ten in the morning, five days after the chaotic meeting. Already, the city was making good strides to make sure not an ounce of energy was lost. Each family was allowed one 70 watt light on at a time. The sooner the problem was fixed, the better.
There was a knock on the door and Aaron reluctantly got up to get it. The mailman was standing in the doorway with his usual stern face.
“Mail,” Aaron mumbled to his mother and began to sort out all of it. Then one of the letters caught his eye. It was addressed to him. Curious, Aaron opened it and scanned the letter. In bold words it said: “You have been selected to help fix the solar generators.” Aaron glanced over it again to make sure it was real and that it wouldn’t slip away from his fingers into stardust.
No, it was as real as anything in the room. Aaron gave a quick smile and scanned through the rest of the letter.
Tomorrow would be their first meeting, from then on, they’d go aboveground.
Aaron had wolfed down his breakfast and had broken through the door in record timing. He wasn’t going to be late (as he often was) for this.
And it was only then that he managed to see the monstrous crowd of people around him. Apparently, to be chosen wasn’t all that difficult. At the front of the line was Grant Harrison, stamping people in.
Just then, the nervousness came. Something caught in Aaron’s throat, making him barely able to breathe. By the time he was at the table, he was sure he was going to pass out.
“Ah,” exclaimed Grant, “our youngling.” He pronounced the word very smoothly, hoping to catch Aaron off guard. “We’ll see what we can make of you.”
Aaron nodded, not daring to speak.
Grant Harrison whispered something into someone’s ear. They nodded and walked off. “To the blue—no, red team, please.”
Aaron gave a mere nod and walked slowly over to the table with the red sign. The mailman was standing there, still stern faced.
It was about an hour before everyone was checked in and Grant stood up. “Gentlemen, I hope that you see the severity of this journey as I do.” He went on to explain procedures and what exactly they were to do. After about ten minutes, Aaron lost concentration. He’d see when they got there.
The group assembled by color and began the ascent up a staircase, half concealed behind a wall.
Aaron followed the people in front of him. The staircase was very narrow, causing them to cram together. Aaron began to sweat and feel very claustrophobic. It took a while before the red team began to slowly move up the stairs.
“What’s up there? What’d’you reckon is the cause of the damages?” Aaron heard one of the men say.
Aaron wished he knew the answers. Now he was beginning to wish he wasn’t going. His mother had told him not to, but, alas, his father had won, meaning that he would go whether he wanted to or not.
There were many whispers, Aaron noticed much like that. People regretted coming and very few now seemed enthusiastic about the journey ahead. After all, no one had gone aboveground for a hundred years.
Finally daylight began to break in, causing Aaron to shield his eyes. How could anyone ever live with that? The cities above ground would have to wear sunglasses all day!
But slowly, his eyes adjusted; though it still hurt to look anywhere near the sun. He remembered his mother’s warning: “Look at the sun, and you’ll blind yourself.”
Aaron hoped he wouldn’t return blind. That would be absolutely terrible.
Grant Harrison stopped and surveyed the crowd. “The time is now. We will be going aboveground for the first time in one hundred years.” He did not say, “Turn back now, if you must,” or any thing of that matter. Apparently, there was no longer a choice.
Then pairs of sunglasses were distributed to everyone. It would take about a day for their eyes to adjust.
And finally, after all the waiting and hubbub, the door creaked open.
Aaron gasped as he looked at the sun through his glasses. It was amazing how the light could be so natural and not artificial. Others around him looked about in amazement, too.
Then the ascent began to be the first one on real ground. Aaron had no chance, but like everyone else, sprinted up the steps. Of course, Grant Harrison made it up first…
But now he was aboveground. The world seemed to spin around and Aaron noticed he was getting dizzy. Slowly, everything went back to normal and the group spotted the solar panels.
They looked nice enough. As far as Aaron could tell, there was nothing broken to them. Grant ran towards them and began to exam the intricate wiring.
Meanwhile the groups waited for direction. Could it be as simple as rewiring the circuits? It was several long moments before Grant looked back out into the crowd.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “welcome aboveground. It was here, nearly 150 years ago that our city’s founders created this underground city in the year 2011. Now here we are. The generators seem to be in fine condition. But that will be decided tomorrow. There are mattresses and sleeping bags to sleep in. It is nearing evening so I suggest everyone to get a good sleep for tomorrow the real work begins.”
Grant Harrison slipped off from his position and swept past Aaron, bumping him on the shoulder. “Good luck,” he whispered.
Aaron glared menacingly at him, but gave it a rest. He walked over to the red team’s leader who handed him a sleeping bag, a sandwich, and a bottle of water.
Soon Aaron was off to sleep.
It was at least midnight the next day when Aaron noticed that everyone was gone. There wasn’t a soul in the night sky.
Aaron took off his sunglasses. The moon’s reflected light was the type that he was used to. Then a scream rose to his throat, but stopped there.
Where had everyone gone?
Aaron searched around frantically. Surely they were somewhere. They were there. Right there. Just hours ago everyone was asleep.
Aaron whipped around. He had heard a twig snap.
But there wasn’t anything.
Aaron watched his chest rise and fall and began to hyperventilate. Ok, he told himself, there’s no one here. Just nature.
A wolf howled in the distance. Aaron’s breath grew more desperate.
Aaron began to cautiously walk towards solar panels. Maybe someone was there. Maybe they were there fixing it.
Aaron knew how lame it was. But he held onto it anyways. It was the only thing to keep him from going insane in this strange world.
But there was no one at the solar panels.
And that was when he noticed that the door to the city was gone.
He was alone.
Aaron wanted to scream. Something to be heard. But something stopped him. The wolf howls were even closer now.
The night was silent, except for the occasional croak of a cricket. Aaron breathed heavily, just to make sure he could still hear himself.
This time it was so close that Aaron actually jumped. Stay calm, he told himself. It’s only…wolves.
But the thought was not in the least bit comforting. And that was when he saw the first wolf.
And then the next dozen.
A pack of them had completely surrounded him.
Aaron stopped himself from panicking. That wouldn’t be helpful. Not in the least bit.
Aaron slowly began to seat himself on the ground. Still, the wolves didn’t move.
Then there was a shot and a wolf fell down—dead. In the distance there was a fire roaring.
The wolves began to run away. And that was when Aaron made a huge mistake. He began to run toward the man with the gun.
“Stop,” he whispered. “There’s a bear a couple of feet behind you. If I try to shoot, it’ll kill you.”
“Stay clam. And whatever you do, don’t make any movement.”
Aaron did as he was told. Only now could he hear the bear’s breathing.
Suddenly it charged.
But it wasn’t at him; it was at the man with the gun. There was a gunshot and the bear fell down dead. Blood dripping from where the bear’s heart would be.
A second man walked up.
“Many bears tonight.”
Suddenly a though occurred to Aaron. “Have you seen where my group went? I’m supposed to be with them.”
“The bears killed them,” the second man said without a hint of emotion.
“But then there’d be blood,” Aaron explained.
“Not when their bodies were taken alive to feed the bear cubs.”
“But there were so many in our group,” Aaron said persistently.
“Many bears tonight,” he repeated.
“Then why wasn’t I taken?” Aaron asked. Why had these people been taken to the bear cubs, but not him?
“I saved you,” the first man replied.
“And where’s the door?” Aaron finally asked.
“Cave-in,” the second man answered,
Aaron stared at them. “Then how am I supposed to get back. I must. My family and…and…” But Aaron stopped there.
Aaron turned around and walked toward the generators. Why had he ever gone up here? He could have stayed below.
And there, behind the solar panel was a key. Aaron pocketed it, not really knowing why, but did it all the same.
“Can you take me to somewhere safe?” Aaron asked.
The two men nodded.
Aaron found himself three days later in the Healer’s guest room. She had been very kind as to let him sleep there, feed him, and given him free range to her small house. But now Aaron just wanted to return home.
The Healer did have one rule, though.
Not to go into the library.
Of course, he was now standing by the door to it. Obviously, it was locked. There was no point to it.
Aaron, for some foolish reason, took out the key he had found by the generator. It was absurd, but he tried it anyways.
Carefully, he turned it and heard the click. Out of curiosity, Aaron went in.
Her library was quite small, but in the center there was a book. The City Underground. It was titled.
And there was a picture of the town hall of Aaron’s city on the cover. Warily, Aaron opened it.
“I do wish you hadn’t gone in,” said the Healer.
Aaron froze. “I—I didn’t, I didn’t m-mean to.”
The Healer sighed. “I’m sorry, but I can’t let this happen. Please give me the key. I don’t know how on earth you got it…”
Aaron gave her the key reluctantly.
“Thank you,” she said and walked away. But she had somehow forgotten that Aaron was still in the room.
This meant whatever she didn’t want Aaron to see, was in the same room as him. Quickly, Aaron began to search around the room.
And there was a trapdoor right below the table.
Aaron carefully opened it. It was pitch black, but despite that, Aaron began the descent down the old ladder.
It was several long minutes before he saw any form of light. But eventually he could make the room out.
He had been here before.
“I see you found the trapdoor,” came a voice out of nowhere. Aaron scanned the room and saw the mayor of the underground city staring at him.
The mayor smiled pleasantly. “Yes, that dear ‘Healer’ is distantly related to me. Whenever I need supplies, her city is able to supply it. That way we can maintain…tradition by not interacting with the outside world.”
Aaron stared at him.
“And the solar panels?”
“Fixed,” the mayor replied simply. “I was so sad to hear that some of the men were killed. Though I am sure your parents would love to see you.”
Finally Aaron gave a slow, toothy grin.
“Alright,” Aaron said slowly. “Alright.”